NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson VIII)
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster speaks about dilemmas Paul faced in his ministry and missionary endeavors. As early as the Apostolic age, self-appointed apostles went around trying to build a reputation as true representatives of Christ and the Church. First Paul warns against their concepts before he cautions against their character. The thing that upset Paul more than anything else involved their trying to persuade believers to adopt the Jewish way of thinking about ceremonial laws in order to make their Christian faith even stronger. This same argument is made today, only it no longer involves circumcision, kosher foods, laws on washing one’s hands a certain way before a meal, new moons, feasts, and festivals to attain a right standing before God. Today it involves undergoing certain church practices involving rites, rituals, regulations, and ceremonies, which must be done in particular ways by particular people to be holy sacraments that dispense grace according to church teachings.1
Then Chrysostom makes it clear that none of this is lead by the Spirit of God, it is all part of the devil’s weaponry. As long as the body is united, Satan can find no way of getting in to cause disharmony and division. So, where does division come from? It originates from doctrines being taught which are contrary to the teachings of Jesus passed on by the Apostles. Chrysostom also speaks of it as Paul’s admonition to the Jewish interlopers in the church at Rome. Their words sound wonderful, but they are deceptive. However, they do not fool everyone, only the hearts of the simple-minded.2
Some other early church leaders say interesting things about what they saw in the church during their days in the Fourth century AD. First, the Bishop of Jerusalem talks about how some heretics and false apostles were offering poison pills of godless doctrines coated with the honey of Christ’s name.3 Then, early church scholar Jerome calls it nothing but flattering words. For him, flattery is always dangerous, deceitful, and distasteful. Even Greek philosophers defined flattery as a tasteless enemy. Sometimes truth is harsh, bitter, stern, unpleasant, and offensive to those who are being tested but it’s the best remedy for their spiritual illness.4
However, Pelagius feels that Paul is speaking of those in the church who in his day were raised in Jewish culture and customs and became overzealous by doing away with fasting and abstinence; disagreeing with apostolic teaching and placing obstacles in the path of the believers they must hurdle or sidestep in order to go further in their faith. They preached adherence to new moons and sabbaths and other feast days for the sake of their stomachs, not their souls.5
John Calvin sees Paul mentioning a changeless blemish by which false prophets are distinguished from the true servants of Christ. For one thing, they see no benefit in giving all the glory to Christ but seek the benefit for their own egotistical craving. Calvin notes that such charlatans deceitfully creep in, assuming another character in order to conceal their wicked intent. Calvin also sees Paul pointing out, in order that no one might be deceived, the arts and crafts these tricksters adopted – they ingratiated themselves by an easy to swallow sales pitch. Calvin admits that some preachers of the Gospel exhibit a courteous and pleasing manner they couple with tolerance by neither flattering people’s good deeds with egotistic praises, nor excuse their vices with sternness. Such impostors allure people with flattery while indulging their vices to keep them as followers and disciples. For Calvin, anyone who is not discerning enough to avoid these traps of deceptions is severely under-informed of God’s Word.6
Adam Clarke has some strong words to say about those who come into an assembly for the purpose of causing strife and disharmony. Clarke notes that there are some ancient Greek manuscripts of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in which verse eighteen can be paraphrased as follows: “Give them have no Holy Kiss of love nor peace, because they come only to cause divisions, and by doing so divide the flock of Christ into groups who oppose one another. And out of these factions scandals are produced; and this is contrary to that doctrine of peace, unity, and brotherly love which you learned. Keep a sharp lookout for such people and see that they do no harm. If possible, avoid them – give them no endorsement, and offer no religious fellowship to them.”7
Like British scholar Adam Clarke, Scottish theologian Robert Haldane expresses no leniency for those who come only to divide and cause discord in the Body of Christ. For him, the force of the passage lies in Paul’s warning to the church in Rome that factious persons are to be watched and guarded against. Don’t just ignore them and hope they go away. Their motives are wrong, and their efforts are contrary to the Gospel’s teaching on unity among all believers in one Savior, these are things they’ve already been taught. To remember they are all one, as united in Christ, the head of the body.
Such persons are to be avoided and remain uninvited. People who come in with a high opinion of themselves and their knowledge more often than not sow division in the Church. They are to be more shunned than if they came with an infectious disease. And those church members acquainted with them should not depend solely on their own ability to discern and continue associating with them. If they do, they open themselves up to conversations on subjects they know little about. Such persons are in the service of Satan. It’s his will to deceive the strongest of God’s people if allowed to operate unhindered.8
With regard to the trouble makers that Paul warned the believers about, Charles Hodge shares some insights. While he urges pastors to welcome all faithful ministers and Christians, they must have nothing to do with those who cause divisions and discord. Hodge thinks there were probably two evils being considered in the Apostle’s mind when he wrote this passage. One, the divisions caused by erroneous doctrines, and two, the disruption and disharmony caused by abusive attitudes of such false teachers. When we look back over early church history, all the distraction caused by false teaching reflected the corrupt moral character of the messenger.
This was the case to a certain extent with the Judaizers who not only upset the church by insisting on the observance of the Mosaic ceremonial laws but also pressed some of their doctrines to an immoral extreme.9 It was still more obviously in the case of those with errors in their doctrines that were infected with worldly philosophy. Paul mentioned this to the Colossians and to Timothy.10 These teachings were equally opposed to the doctrines taught by the Apostle Paul. For those who caused these dissensions, Paul commands Christians first to evaluate – to notice carefully and not allow them to continue their scheme uninterrupted; and secondly, to avoid – to break off any connection with them.11 To do otherwise, would be like a homeowner continuing to feed the mice they are trying to get rid of.
Hodge goes on to describe the character of such malcontents. The reason they are to be avoided is that the disease of false doctrine they carry is highly infectious. The way Paul describes them here in verse eighteen is very accurate. It also defines such false teachers at any age in church history. They are not motivated by zeal for the Lord Jesus and His kingdom, but any fame and fortune they can use to brag about themselves. In that way, they are the most deceitful.12 The Greek nouns chrēstologia, rendered by the KJV as “good words,” and eulogia, which is translated by the KJV as “fair speeches,” do not differ all that much in what they mean in the context of this narrative by Paul.
Basically, chrēstologia means, “presenting a smooth motivational speech intended to encourage being fair,” and eulogia means, “using polished language in a finely constructed speech.” Both are an attempt to impress and thereby gain influence over those who are easily persuaded. The way Paul describes such persuadable people with the Greek adjective akakos. It defines child-like adults who trust those in authority without question because they see no reason why anyone would want to hurt them13.14 Just like a child who believes Santa Clause is real and the Easter bunny lays eggs just because Mommy and Daddy told them so.
16:19 Everyone’s heard of your openness to counsel, and I am very happy about that. But I want you to be wise about what it means to be good and innocent when it comes to your knowledge of how to be evil.
Here we see the Apostle Paul’s fatherly or protective spirit manifesting itself. He rejoiced over what they learned and put into practice, but he’s also aware that sometimes even the most informed of believers is led astray by clever arguments. It’s like parents who warn their children about hot stoves and crossing the street before looking both ways. Paul felt the same way about the Romans as he did the saints in Thessalonica,15 and desired to see them continue on the path of growing in Christ and in God’s Word.
This was Paul’s concern for those in Ephesus as well who walked in the light of the true Gospel,16 and to the Colossians he wrote: “We give thanks to God for you because we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus. We thank God for your love for all those who belong to Christ. We thank God for the hope that is being kept for you in heaven. You first heard about this hope through the Good News which is the Word of Truth. The Good News came to you the same as it is now going out to all the world. Lives are being changed, just as your life was changed the day you heard the Good News.”17
1 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit.
2 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 32
3 Cyril of Jerusalem: The Catechetical Lectures 4.2
4 Jerome: Against the Pelagians 1.26.
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 297
8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 643
9 See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5
10 Colossians 2:10-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-8
11 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 696-697
12 Cf. Philippians 3:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:5-6
13 See Proverbs 14:15
14 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 697
15 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9
16 Ephesians 1:15-17
17 Colossians 1:3-6